Unlike Time magazine which awards a Man of the Year annually to the individual (usually) who has the most influence in world affairs, The Interim honours an individual only occasionally. Appearing on Time’s cover is not necessarily a badge of honour; they have (in)famously named tyrants and dictators their Man of the Year, because even murderers can be the most important figures moving history. The Interim chooses to honour those who have made a positive contribution to public life, which is why over the last 15 years, this paper has named only two individuals Person of the Year: Ezra Levant in 2008 (for his fight against the human rights commissions) and Stephen Woodworth in 2012 (for trying to get Parliament to study the status of the preborn child).
This year, for the first time in a generation, there was a unabashed and principled pro-lifer seeking the leadership of a mainstream, national political party in Canada. In fact, there were two of them: current MP Brad Trost and former MP Pierre Lemieux.
As we noted in an editorial it is not unheard of in Canadian politics to have pro-life candidates running for leader of a political party. Stockwell Day running for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in 2000 comes to mind. What is rare is the pro-life candidate who runs on life and family issues. The last one was Tom Wappel, when he ran to lead the Liberals in 1990.
While Trost and Lemieux, like Wappel, were not ultimately successful in winning the leadership, it does not mean they were not successful. Trost and Lemieux exceeded expectations – an important barometer of success in politics – by finishing fourth and seventh respectively out of 13 candidates, and combining for about a sixth of the points.
The two candidates also inspired tens of thousands of pro-life and socially conservative Canadians to sign up as Conservative Party members, activating, if not a silent majority, a significant number of people who have long felt disenfranchised in politics because no one spoke to their issues: the killing of innocent human life through abortion and euthanasia, the destruction of traditional moral norms through same-sex “marriage” and the burgeoning transgender agenda, and the assault on liberty especially the infringement of the rights of free speech and religion.
Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux were able to sign up these Canadians – many of them, in the parlance of the day, “New Canadians” – because they not merely shared their concerns on moral issues, but spoke out frankly about them. In short, they campaigned on moral issues.
In our editorial endorsement of Trost and Lemieux, we said that what distinguishes the two of them from others who call themselves pro-life and what excited us (and many of those who voted for them) was that they ran a campaign in which they highlighted life and family issues. They both promised to do something about sex-selective abortion. Both promised to enact an unborn victims of violence law. Both spoke out against Justin Trudeau’s $650 million foreign aid boost to promote abortion around the world. Both defended conscience rights for medical practitioners. Both stood up for the rights of parents as first educators.
Trost, for his part, talked extensively about policy, telling The Interim that his mandate letter would require his health minister to promote the culture of life including a public health campaign upholding the value of the lives of children with Down syndrome.
Lemieux would appeal to pro-life and pro-family voters by explicitly identifying himself as one. Throughout the campaign he repeated the lines: “I am Pierre Lemieux. I am pro-life. I am social conservative. I am pro-freedom of speech. And I am Canadian. These are Canadian values.” He said that when those with pro-life views and religious-based values do not feel welcome in the Conservative Party, “then our party is too small.”
Indeed, Trost and Lemieux allowed tens of thousands of pro-life and pro-family conservative Canadians feel like they belonged in the party again after a decade of being pushed to the margins. Trost and Lemieux tapped into a deep hunger for the political parties to address issues that are too often considered either controversial or settled – or somehow both controversial and settled.
In short, Trost and Lemieux gave voice to a constituency – the pro-life and pro-family voter – that is ignored, if not worse: silenced and ridiculed. Trost told his fellow Tories in Toronto on May 26, there are many in the party who want to focus on fiscal issues or crime or foreign policy and forget the “old-fashioned” conservatives: “they say we need either to be quiet or be dropped altogether. I say, they are wrong.”
It is too early to know what the long term effects of Trost and Lemieux’s campaigns will be. Andrew Scheer, a putative pro-life politician, won a surprise victory over Maxime Bernier, a libertarian who tried to appeal to socially conservative voters. One analysis of the vote totals suggests it was Trost and Lemieux voters that tipped Scheer over the top on the 13th and final ballot of the leadership race. It also seems likely that the Trost and Lemieux focus on moral issues forced other candidates to take notice of pro-life and pro-family voters.
In the December edition of First Things, Maggie Gallagher and Frank Cannon of the American Principles Project, argue for political leadership on cultural issues including abortion, marriage, and religious freedom. Talking about these issues signals they matter. “When only one side is willing to speak enthusiastically about a prominent issue,” Gallagher and Cannon write, “people begin to believe there really is only one side.” They were talking about the lack of Republican leadership on marriage and religious freedom and juxtaposing it with their outspokenness on abortion. Same-sex “marriage” seems settled in America, while abortion does not, because the Republican leadership endorsed a truce strategy on marriage while continuing to court pro-life voters by addressing the abortion issue.
Trost and Lemieux signaled that not everyone in the Conservative Party endorses an across-the-board truce strategy on moral issues. While Trost and Lemieux did not win the leadership, they won for future pro-life and pro-family candidates the right to continue talking about and fighting for these issues. They may have done so at great cost. Only time will tell what their future within the Conservative Party might be.
Trost and Lemieux were principled and pragmatic: standing up for the right thing is always the right thing to do, but their campaign was not Quixotic. If they were silent on moral issues, it would be that much more difficult to run on abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and conscience in the future. They kept the window open on the range of issues that can be discussed in the political arena. For that, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux deserve to be celebrated as The Interim’s People of the Year.